While addressing CPAC, one of the largest conservative conferences in the nation, Illinois Congresswoman Mary Miller (R-Oakland) defended her 2021 bill, “Safety and Opportunity for Girls Act.”
She described it as having two benefits: “To ensure that our girls have opportunities in athletics, and that we protect our girls in their private spaces.”
Nikita Shepard is a Columbia University PhD candidate, specializing in LGBTQ history, gender, and sexuality, in the U.S. Shepard recognized a certain rhetoric while watching Miller’s speech.
“This notion of protecting women and protecting children…has been a key theme in American political discourse across the political spectrum, but particularly for conservatives, since at least the 1950s,” Shepard said.
Shepard said the language of “protecting children” grew in prominence after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 — when the U.S. Supreme Court said that separate but equal public schools were unconstitutional.
“What these conservatives and white supremacist activists found was that the rhetoric of child protection really worked, that it was a really effective rhetorical strategy,” Shepard explained. “Not only for fighting against school desegregation, or busing, or things like that, but a wide variety of political issues. So going into the 1970s, you see this child protection rhetoric being expanded into everything from, you know, anti-abortion campaigns after Roe v. Wade…to campaigns against welfare.”
Miller also affirmed her support for the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” which excludes transgender identity and seeks to define gender based on biological sex at birth.
The bill states: “There are important reasons to distinguish between the sexes with respect to athletics, prisons, domestic violence shelters, restrooms, and other areas, particularly where biology, safety, and privacy are implicated.”
Shepard said bills of this kind are regressive.
“What seems ironic to me, is that in Mary Miller’s fantasy, it’s the government who would be able to tell us what our gender identity is, and how we’re able to identify what bathroom we have to use. The most intimate aspects of our bodies, of our personal lives, what kind of medical care we can access,” Shepard said.
Both bills are conservative measures, supported by members of the House Freedom Caucus. However, Shepard said this rhetoric differs from “conventionally libertarian or sort of small government notions of conservatism.”
“It’s a very striking thing that a so-called conservative is insisting that government regulation should be able to determine what everyday citizens can do with their bodies and do with their identities,” Shepard explained.
According to The Well News, Miller teaches Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. She justified her support for the two bills, in part, by saying: “Genesis tells us that God created man and woman, that their purpose is to be fruitful and to multiply.”
Miller’s 15th Congressional District opponent, Democrat Paul Lange, said the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” in particular, is misleading.
“I think it misses the main thrust of what I would consider a “Women’s Bill of Rights”….and that is the ability (for a woman) to determine her own health issues,”’ Lange said.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin